This month we turn to the teachings and examples of the Word of God to look for the light it would shed on issues of complicity. Although no one passage addresses the topic of complicity in detail, there are some commandments in Mosaic Law that provide insight into God’s perspective on the topic. Leviticus 20:4-5 reads,
“If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.””
While a specific penalty against the community when they “close their eyes” is not recorded in this passage, God makes it clear that it is His intention that they deal with the situation and in a decisive way; “the people of the community are to stone him.” Closing their eyes is regarded as more than a retreat into passivity here. It is the same as disobeying God’s commandment to stone the guilty one. The consequence described is that God will deal with the sinner and his family Himself, and with “all who follow him.” While the tie is not made explicitly to the members of the community who didn’t act when they should have, they have clearly become complicit in the guilty one’s evil action and are subject to God’s judgment in one form or another. Repeatedly through the book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel are told of specific situations in which, “You must purge the evil from within you” (Deut. 13:5, 17:7, 19:19, 21:21, 22:21, 22:24, 24:7). Not purging known evil appears to me a clear case of complicity in that evil. Rather than listing specific consequences for each situation, Moses saves his description of rewards and punishments for an extended passage near the end of Deuteronomy. Chapter 28 lists the blessings that will be theirs if they obey God in all these things and the curses that will be theirs if they “do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees.” Then, as now, our complicity is cursed in ways that may not be directly linked to the original crime.
Provision is also made for those who sin in ignorance in Numbers 15:22-29:
” `Now if you unintentionally fail to keep any of these commands the LORD gave Moses– any of the LORD’s commands to you through him, from the day the LORD gave them and continuing through the generations to come– and if this is done unintentionally without the community being aware of it, then the whole community is to offer a young bull for a burnt offering as an aroma pleasing to the LORD, along with its prescribed grain offering and drink offering, and a male goat for a sin offering? But if just one person sins unintentionally, he must bring a year-old female goat for a sin offering. The priest is to make atonement before the LORD for the one who erred by sinning unintentionally, and when atonement has been made for him, he will be forgiven.'”
Here we see that both the individual and the community will be forgiven if they sin without knowledge, but not without cost. When the individual and/or the community become aware of the sin, they are to bring a sin offering to the Lord – it is still sin, requiring forgiveness rather than excuse. An individual who admitted to her own sin prior to the knowledge of others in the community could deal with her sin between herself, God, and the priest. When the sin came to be recognized by others in the community first, “all the people were involved in the unintentional wrong,” requiring both a sin offering and a burnt offering.
And the wisdom of Proverbs also shines across the ages. “He who winks maliciously causes grief” (Prov. 10:10) – our complicity can take forms that are not so apparently innocent or ignorant. Sending a message that should be chilling to those of us who struggle with the killing of fetuses today (for whatever purpose), Proverbs 24:11-12 says:
“Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?'”
And Proverbs 29:24 reads “The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy; he is put under oath and dare not testify” – we become enemies of our very selves when we become complicit in the evil deeds of others. These commandments and writings set a platinum standard in considering our own situations of potential complicity.
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